Unsolved Hollywood Murders That Are Still Lingering

Hollywood is a region in Los Angeles, but it's also a symbol – the very utterance of the word conjures up images of glamour, fame, and opportunity. Behind all those red carpet appearances is a seedier reality, one that has existed since the silent film era, and certainly does today. It's a reality in which aspiring young actors and actresses are often vulnerable to exploitative, predatory individuals. It's a reality in which lives are used up, and reputations are twisted posthumously in sensational headlines.
The dark side of "the biz" is never more apparent than in Hollywood's famous unsolved murders and deaths. Some of the victims — all women — were murdered; others died without a clear explanation and became legends nonetheless. Each of these unsolved deaths are remarkable for the media flurry they incited, in which far-fetched theories proliferated in news headlines, and personalities were reevaluated posthumously. The women were forever branded by the stories of their tragic, and mysterious, deaths.
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Ultimately, one must wonder what would have happened to these women, had the culture of Hollywood been less exploitative; had being a woman been less inherently dangerous. Here are the unsolved deaths that Hollywood and true crime writers can't seem to let go of.
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Natalie Wood

Who was she? If you've seen West Side Story, then you know Natalie Wood. She played Maria, the Juliet figure in the musical. She also starred in other notable movies, like Miracle on 34th Street, Splendor in the Grass, and Rebel Without a Cause.
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What happened to her?

Natalie Wood had a documented fear of water. While shooting Splendour in the Grass, she told director Elia Kazan of her "terror of water, particularly dark water, and being helpless in it." Yet she and her husband, Robert Wagner, spent much of their time sailing around California aboard their yacht Splendour. On the night of November 28, 1981, Wood drowned near Catalina Island. She was 41.

Prior to her drowning, Wood had spent a tense weekend aboard the yacht with Wagner, her co-star Christopher Walken, and yacht captain Dennis Davern. Wood's death was ruled an accidental drowning; a year later, the death was reclassified as being due to "drowning and other undetermined factors."

Those undetermined factors are still being debated to this day. Why didn't Walken and Wagner notice Wood had left the boat for the dingy in the middle of the night? Where was she going? In November 2011, Davern implied that Wood's fall was no accident, and that Wagner and Wood had been fighting the entire trip. Wagner, in his 2008 memoir, preemptively disputed these claims as “all conjecture. Nobody knows. There are only two possibilities: either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”

But a comment made by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Investigators to CBS News' 48 Hours in February 2018 cast doubt on Wagner's claim. “As we’ve investigated the case over the last six years, I think he’s more of a person of interest now,” Lieutenant John Corina said of Wagner while on 48 Hours. Investigations, all these years later, are still underway. The full 48 Hours CBS special "Natalie Wood: Death in Dark Water," will air on Saturday, February 3 at 10:00 p.m., and will investigate the claims more fully.
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Virginia Rappe

Who was she? Rappe was a model and silent film actress who worked in the 1920s. She also worked as a fashion designer, and used her passion for clothing to make political statements. She created a "peace hat" in the shape of dove's wings, which supporters of peace could wear during WWI. She also posed in a tuxedo for an article that said women should have "equal clothes rights with men." Given all her vivacity in life, it's a shame that we remember her only for her death.
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What happened to her?

The events surrounding Rappe's death in 1921 became known as Hollywood's first sex scandal. Rappe attended a Paramount party at a hotel. She wandered into a hotel room, and a man trailed her quickly. That man was Roscoe "Fatty" Arbuckle, an extremely successful comic actor. According to coverage at the time, common belief was that Arbuckle placed her on the bed, and crushed her with his body weight. Half an hour later, party guest Maude Delmont heard Rappe screaming. She found Arbuckle wearing Rappe's hat, and Rappe moaning in pain.

Rappe died four days later of a ruptured bladder, and Arbuckle was arrested for first-degree murder and rape; the charges were later downgraded to manslaughter. Sensational newspapers immediately concluded that the 266-pound actor had ruptured her bladder. Arbuckle, however, maintained his innocence, and said he found Rappe vomiting in his bathroom and put her to bed. Delmont's veracity as a witness also came into question.

Despite the dearth of evidence and lack of witnesses, the media seized on this story. In the swarm of rumors and scandals, it took three trials to reach a conclusion. Arbuckle was ultimately acquitted. His career never recovered. In the public's eye, he was guilty of violating a young woman and of being a symbol of Hollywood's debauchery and immorality. We'll never know what really happened to Virginia Rappe.
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Thelma Todd

Who was she? Thelma Todd was one of the most prolific actresses of the silent film and early talkie era. In the 10-year span between 1926 and 1935, Todd appeared in about 120 films. In talkies, she was known for being a comedic powerhouse.
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What happened to her?

At the age of 30, Thelma Todd died of carbon monoxide poisoning in the car garage where she always left her 1932 Lincoln Phaeton. Of that, there's no debate. The controversy comes in determining whether Todd was murdered, or died accidentally. On the evening of Saturday, December 14, 1935, Thelma went to a party that was thrown in her honor. She returned to the garage at 3:15 a.m. Sunday morning; her body was found at 10:30 a.m. on Monday.

One theory is that Todd died accidentally, and didn't realize how dangerous keeping a car running in a garage was. But that theory doesn't explain the bruises on her face, and her cracked ribs. At the time, fervent tabloids turned to figures in Todd's life: Roland West, her sometimes lover; Jewel Carmen, West's wife; Pasquale DiCicco, Todd's ex-husband, who was an ex-pimp and bootlegger. DiCicco in particular seemed like the perfect murder suspect. He saw Todd the evening she was murdered, and left for New York almost immediately after.

What really happened to Todd remains unsolved to this day. What we do know is the tragedy of the loss – Todd was a real talent.
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Elizabeth Short

Who was she? Elizabeth Short was a young American woman who had recently relocated to California. She worked as a waitress, though she had aspirations to become an actress.
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What happened to her?

Likely, you know Elizabeth Short by her posthumous nickname: the Black Dahlia. At the age of 22, in the year 1947, Short was murdered in horrific fashion. An unknown assailant had cut her body in half, and gashed the corners of her mouth to create the illusion of a smile.

The case received a torrent of media coverage. Many people confessed, but never with enough evidence to support their claims, leaving the L.A.P.D. at odds. The Black Dahlia's murderer was never found.

Until now. In her recently published book Black Dahlia, Red Rose, writer Piu Eatwell points to Leslie Duane Dillon, a bellhop who had been the police's prime suspect, as Short's killer. According to her theory, Dillon was hired by Mark Hansen, a local nightclub owner and Hollywood titan who became obsessed with Short after a brief affair. Hansen's connections to the police protected him.

Pictured: Leslie Duane Dillon
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Marilyn Monroe

Who was she? You don't need us to answer this, do you? Marilyn Monroe was an actress, and was known for being the epitome of a blonde bombshell. She's still a major pop culture icon.
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What happened to her?

In 1962, Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her Los Angeles home, with an empty bottle of sleeping pills on her bedside table. Officially, the death was ruled as a drug overdose and probable suicide.

Despite the cut-and-dry nature of the ruling, conspiracy theories about her death proliferated in 1962, the year she died, and continue to do so today. Some theories are quite far-fetched. For example, some suspect she was murdered due to her intentions of going public about her alleged affairs with President Kennedy — and his brother, Robert. Another outlandish theory is that Robert Kennedy and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover staged her death to appear to be a suicide. Others thought she was murdered by the Mafia; there's a whole book about this theory called Double Cross.
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